Deep innovation knowledge and insights from experts of the verrocchio Institute 

Table of Contents

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking has established itself over the last decades as one of the most important methods for solving complex problems and developing innovation. Through its collaborative, user-centered, and iterative approach, design thinking helps companies adapt to changing market conditions and develop new solutions.

Origin and development of Design Thinking

The origins of design thinking date back to the 1950s and 1960s, when researchers and practitioners began to formalize the design process and explore how it could be applied to other disciplines. One of the early pioneers was British designer and educator John Christopher Jones, who laid the foundation for systematic research into the design process. In the 1970s, researchers such as Herbert A. Simon and Robert McKim began to focus on design thinking as a problem-solving approach.

In the 1980s and 1990s, design thinking continued to evolve, and several schools and practitioners began to develop their own approaches and methods. One of the most influential players during this time was IDEO, a global design and innovation company that was instrumental in popularizing design thinking. David Kelley, IDEO’s founder, and Tim Brown, its former CEO, have contributed significantly to the development and dissemination of the Design Thinking methodology. Today, design thinking is used in a variety of industries and contexts.

Variations of Design Thinking

In fact, there is no exact design thinking process once established. While the core process of design thinking typically includes five phases (empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing), there are several variations and interpretations of this approach.

Some of the most popular variants are:

Stanford approach

The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, known as, has developed an influential design thinking approach that emphasizes the five phases (empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing). The has contributed significantly to the spread of Design Thinking in education and in companies.

Double Diamond Approach

The Double Diamond approach, developed by the British Design Council , depicts the design process as two diamonds representing the four phases of Discover, Define, Develop, and Deliver. This method emphasizes the importance of convergent and divergent thinking at different stages of the design process. Find out more about the difference between convergent and divergent thinking here .

Google Design Sprint

The Google Design Sprint, developed by Google Ventures, is a time-limited, intensive application of design thinking in which a team defines a problem, develops ideas, creates a prototype and tests it with users in five days. This approach promotes rapid decision-making and iteration, helping teams achieve tangible results in a short period of time.

verrocchio approach

In the practical application of the Design Thinking approach over the last decades, the verrocchio Institute has extended the basic model of the 5 phases by 2 additional steps. Thus, 7 phases are used. (Empathy, defining, ideation, idea enrichment, prototyping, testing, implementation). Idea enrichment is an important phase that is often forgotten in classic design thinking. In the process, initial individual ideas are further developed and improved by the entire team. The implementation should also be part of the process and should be considered in the previous phases. Otherwise, many good ideas disappear quickly because no one has thought to organize the resources to implement them.

Regardless of which variation you choose, the heart of design thinking remains a focus on people, collaboration, and iterative problem solving.

Is design thinking an agile method?

Design Thinking and Agile are two different approaches, but they have some similarities and overlaps. Both methods emphasize flexibility, collaboration, and adaptability. However, design thinking is not an agile method in the strict sense, as it focuses primarily on the customer-centric problem-solving process and the development of innovative ideas. Agile methods, on the other hand, primarily relate to the implementation and development of projects, especially in software development.

Despite these differences, design thinking and agile methods can be successfully combined and used together. Design thinking can be applied in the early stages of a project to identify user needs, develop creative solutions, and prototype. Agile methods can then be used subsequently for iterative implementation and continuous improvement of the developed solutions.

Helpful tools when working with Design Thinking

Over time, the toolbox of our Innovation Coaches has expanded with many exciting tools that support the successful implementation of Design Thinking. For some time now, for example, we have been making frequent use of artificial intelligence for research and analysis tasks. If you want to know how this works, you can find the exciting article Design Thinking with ChatGPT here.

When does it make sense to use design thinking?

Design thinking is a useful tool in many situations:

Complex problems and big challenges: Design thinking is particularly useful in tackling complex problems where simple or linear solutions are not enough. The iterative and experimental approach of design thinking helps you develop innovative solutions.
See also the article on structured and unstructured problems.

User focus: Design thinking is a user-centered method that focuses on the needs and expectations of users. Whenever it is important to you to develop products or services that are tailored to the needs of the users, Design Thinking is an appropriate approach.

Interdisciplinary collaboration: The core of Design Thinking is collaboration in multidisciplinary teams. If you have a project that can benefit from integrating different perspectives and skills, design thinking is a good choice.

Uncertainty and change: In situations where there are many unknowns or rapidly changing conditions, design thinking can help you respond flexibly to change and quickly develop prototypes to test and adapt ideas.

Improvement of existing products or services: Design thinking can also be used to improve or further develop existing products or services. In particular, questioning assumptions (more on assumptions and presumptions) and focusing on user needs can identify many areas for improvement.

Criticism of Design Thinking

Design Thinking is an excellent solution approach, but it is also important to choose exactly for which work situation the application makes sense. One criticism is at the same time the biggest plus point of Design Thinking – the strong focus on the user/user: Design Thinking places great emphasis on the needs and expectations of the user. In some cases, this may result in insufficient consideration of other important factors, such as technical feasibility, economic viability, or environmental impact. Here, other methods such as TRIZ are often more useful. Especially for technically oriented or highly regulated industries, other approaches such as analytical problem-solving strategies may be more appropriate.

Handwritten by Christian Buchholz